Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Take Me Out to the Couch!

American philosopher and video game designer, Ian Bogost believes that video games simulate our realities while adding on elements of our imagination. He described video games as:

“…models of real and imagined systems. We always play when we use video games, but the sort of play that we perform is not always the stuff of leisure. Rather, when we play, we explore the possibility space of a set of rules—we learn to understand and evaluate a game’s meaning. Video games make arguments about how social or cultural systems work in the world—or how they could work, or don’t work”(2008).

Using Bogost’s theoretical frame of procedural rhetoric, I’d like to examine the rhetorical message behind the Backyard Baseball series as I believe that video games have become adept at recreating the world of sports in a digital format. In this post, I am going to be applying the terms play, procedurality, and digital rhetoric to Backyard Baseball, a game intended for younger audiences.

Backyard Baseball is a series of baseball video games developed by Humongous Entertainment and published by Atari. It was first released in October 1997 for Macintosh and Microsoft Windows products, but has been updated to accommodate other video game platforms.

 

Series:

  • Backyard Baseball (1997)
    • Platform: Mac, Microsoft Windows
  • Backyard Baseball 2001 (2000)
    • Platform: Mac, Microsoft Windows
    • The first of the series to have professional baseball players portrayed as kids
      • Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr.
  • Backyard Baseball (2001)
    • Platform: Game Boy Advance
  • Backyard Baseball 2003 (2002)
    • Platform: Mac, Microsoft Windows
    • Additions to the game include: new fields, different professional players, 22 Khz audio, and different voice actors.
  • Backyard Baseball (2003)
    • Platform: Nintendo GameCube
  • Backyard Baseball (2004)
    • Platform: Playstation 2
  • Backyard Baseball 2005 (2004)
    •  Platform: Microsoft Windows
  • Backyard Baseball 2006 (2005)
    • Platform: Game Boy Advance
  • Backyard Baseball 2007 (2006)
    • Platform: Game Boy Advance, Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, Microsoft Windows
  • Backyard Baseball 2009 (2008)
    • Platform: Nintendo DS, Wii, PlayStation 2, Windows
  • Backyard Baseball 2010 (2009)
    •  Platform: Nintendo DS, Wii, PlayStation 2
  • Backyard Baseball: Sandlot Sluggers (2010)
    •  Platform: Wii, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
  • Backyard Sports: Baseball 2015 (2015)
    • Platform: iOS, Android

The original game consisted of 55 neighborhood kids which the gamer could choose to play. Over the years, the idea of “pro players as kids” became popular, and the original statistics and looks of the players changed. Some of the professional players that were available included: Chipper Jones, Frank Thomas, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki, Sammy Sosa, Randy Johnson, Derek Jeter, Mike Piazza, Ken Griffey Jr., and Barry Bonds.

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Play and Simulation of Real-Life

In Backyard Baseball, players take a managerial role by creating a team of different players to compete against opponents. In the different installments, a player could play an exhibition game or a 14, 16 or 32 game season (different versions vary) followed by the “Backyard Baseball League” playoffs, which contains the American League and National League divisional series, the AL and NL championship series and finally the “Backyard Baseball World Series”. Series games will vary per game; this game has various playable modes including: Single Game, Batting Practice, Spectator, and Season Game.

Backyard Baseball attempts to recreate the experience of playing baseball as a child. The game simulates real-world baseball as a player is able to choose his/her teammates, team colors and apparel, and the location of the game. The ability to play a sport without an overwhelming sense of aggression or competitive nature gives the game a playful, Sandlot-esque feel.

Gameplay Rules/Options and Procedurality

Procedurality explains the constraints that create possibility spaces. Procedure systems are “machines capable of producing many outcomes, each conforming to the same overall guidelines” (2008). In other words, the rules that structure the video game are an example of procedurality. The rules force users to create their own teams, choose their own colors, etc., however the option to choose produces a number of possible outcomes for the users to create.

Player Information

The player chooses a total of 9 kids to be on his/her team and is able to read through each kid’s biography and skill set. To find out which team chooses team members first and the batting order, the player and a member of the opposing team (computer) use an old-school method. The player and opposing team member put one of their hands at the bottom of the bat until a hand reaches the top – whoever reaches the top of the bat first gets to pick teammates and bat first.

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In addition to deciding teammates, team name, and team color, the player gets to determine the field location of his/her choice. When at bat, the player may also pick from a variety of batting power-ups that pack the heat for the outfielders. Similarly, when pitching, the player can use a plethora of pitching power-ups to increase the difficultly for the team at bat.

Field Locations

  • Steele Stadium
  • Tin Can Alley
  • Cement Gardens
  • Dirt Yards
  • Eckman Acres
  • Sandy Flats
  • Playground Commons

Batting Power-Ups

  • Aluminum Power
  • Screaming Line Drive
  • Under Grounder
  • Crazy Bunt

Pitching Power-Ups

  • Big Freeze
  • Elevator
  • Crazyball
  • Corkskrew
  • Zigzag
  • Slomo
  • Spitball
  • Fireball

Comment on Children’s Sports 

Backyard Baseball is a form of digital rhetoric that demonstrates the importance of sports in a child’s life as it promotes unity amongst people of different race and ethnicities, gender, and experience. The inclusion of diverse characters as teammates teaches children the importance of breaking down cultural barriers by finding common ground in a communal activity. This series breaks down the social system of gender exclusion that games like Madden NFL and FIFA Football promote with male-only athletes. The ability to create a team with male and female characters demonstrates to the users that sports are communities open to all players.

Furthermore, the video game teaches children to carry positive attitudes when learning new skills, playing with others, and working hard to achieve excellence, not perfection. Backyard Baseball  also allows children to work on their decision-making skills as they presented with individual and team choices throughout the entirety of game.

Lastly, the video game helps children learn to deal with pressure as the player must take on all roles in the infield and outfield. The repetition of this act ultimately teaches children that they can improve over time on difficult tasks, focus and work towards long and short-term goals, while maintaining self-confidence and passion.

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